"Time to Deliver": DIGITALEUROPE hails the Portuguese plan to kick-start the digital decade
On 1 January Portugal took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first half of 2021. We welcome their plans and offer our full support towards achieving them.
The Portuguese Presidency comes at a vital time for Europe. Still reeling from the violent third wave of the COVID-19 crisis, digital technologies will be essential to mitigating the effects on our economy and accelerating the recovery. The digital sector is ready and able to assist the transition to a digital and green Europe – one that supports and empowers its citizens and is confident in its place in an interconnected world.
Of the five ‘lines of action’ outlined by the Portuguese Presidency, we are pleased to see that digital technologies are at the forefront of all of them:
2021 will see the EU move from the planning phase of the COVID recovery to the implementation. Our Digital Investment Plan for Europe serves as a blueprint for how to spend the €150 billion allocated to the digital transition in the Next Generation EU funds, as well as those in the Digital Europe programme and other pools of money in the multi-annual financial framework.
Together with our 41 European trade associations we are following the Member States’ national plans with interest, measuring them against our own priorities and targets. Up until the April submission deadline and beyond, it is crucial that the Commission and Member State governments tap into existing expertise from the private sector. Europe’s digital recovery is the central theme of our flagship conference, Masters of Digital, which takes place on 3 and 4 February.
We also look forward to contributing to the industrial strategy update. Our policy paper A Stronger Digital Industrial Europe remains the touchstone for policymakers looking to digitalise our industrial base and take advantage of emerging technologies.
Study after study has shown how digital technologies can significantly reduce carbon emissions across a number of sectors, whilst also increasing competitiveness. Investment over the next few years must focus on digitalising a wide range of industries, from manufacturing to agriculture. The potential contribution of digital technologies to environmental protection, climate action and nature conservation is enormous. We need to better understand this potential and work to maximise it.
In 2021, we have set up a specific Green Deal working group to dig into the details of these issues. Amongst other topics, we will tackle the enabling potential of the digital sector and the role of data centres in the green and digital transition.
Meanwhile, the digital industry has been making significant efforts to reduce its own footprint to accelerate Europe’s circular economy transition. We will continue to be a trusted partner to the EU to help it attain the sustainability goals of the European Green Deal and contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
We share the Portuguese aim of making Europe a leader in tech innovation. To get there, we need the right combination of investment and a regulatory environment that promotes innovation and nurtures scale ups.
This year sees several significant pieces of legislation, notably on artificial intelligence and data-sharing. Both are opportunities to make the most of untapped potential and harness it to support entrepreneurship and create new jobs. Data availability is essential to harness the power of digital, and the success of AI – for example – depends on it. Gaia-X is another key initiative and as members we will work to ensure European cloud infrastructure is collaborative, competitive and makes use of the best technology out there.
We are confident that Europeans can make the most of these new possibilities. We should therefore focus on boosting these opportunities rather than just the risks or fears about Europe’s place in the world.
And finally, health is obviously at the forefront of all of our minds at the moment. During the pandemic, digital solutions offered a glimpse of what is possible, enabling high quality care at a distance and accelerating the search for a vaccine. Portugal is a European frontrunner in digital health and is well-placed to encourage their fellow Member States to move faster with the help of European stimulus funds. We must consolidate the advances made so far, as well as making 2021 the year of the common European health data space.
We enter this year at a time of high unemployment and an unsure future for millions of our fellow Europeans. Those lucky enough to continue working have in most cases been enabled by a boom in working from home, enabled by digital solutions. At the same time, our SMEs have had to adjust rapidly to multiple closures due to COVID-19 lockdowns, with many turning to digital solutions to continue trading.
To marry the needs of the new economy with the needs of citizens to have stable incomes and rewarding careers, the Presidency is right to focus on digital skills. The digital transition must not just be seen as a ‘challenge’, but also an opportunity to create new types of jobs and shift the way we work for the better.
A modern EU require a modernised education system that includes competences like coding and cybersecurity. Education is a central pillar of our digital investment plan and we have set a number of KPIs for Europe to achieve for 2025. For example, Member States should have retrained 20 percent of their workforce, and 80 percent of teachers should feel ready to use digital technologies by 2025 (currently 40 percent).
Another focus area in our investment plan is smaller businesses. Unfortunately, only 8.4% of SMEs are trading online across borders in the EU. We think it should be 30 percent. Now is the time to address these issues to enable scale-ups to grow and compete globally. At Masters of Digital, we will hold our annual Future Unicorn Award, which celebrates those European SMEs that have what it takes to be the next tech giant.
DIGITALEUROPE is already an active partner in four pan-European projects designed to boost digital skills and knowledge of new technologies like cloud computing. The private sector can continue to play an important role.
Europe’s ‘digital decade’ plans must also fit into the broader global tech ecosystem. We therefore welcome efforts to reinforce links with other regions and work towards regulatory alignment. This will create the best possible platform for companies to grow beyond Europe’s borders.
The transatlantic relationship is one that DIGITALEUROPE believes needs closest attention in the next six months. A new President is taking office and we have an opportunity to shape global digital regulation together. Data flows and the aftermath of the Schrems 2 ruling must be top of the agenda. With Privacy Shield now invalidated, our recent survey showed 85 percent of companies (across a range of sectors) use standard contractual clauses as the legal mechanism to transfer data, and are now facing legal uncertainty.
Another good example is cybersecurity, where the recent SolarWinds attack how damaging cyber-attacks can be. We will continue our close involvement with NATO on this subject and encourage the Portuguese Presidency to build closer links between the alliance and the EU’s growing defence apparatus.
And finally, the EU-UK relationship will remain an important one. Brexit has now taken place, but many issues remain unresolved. A priority for the EU in the coming months should be to establish a permanent data adequacy decision allowing the safe transfer of private data.